Kiwis won the competition of going ahead to the point table. The people that travelled through the hills to watch the first one-day international in Pallekele witnessed a Pakistan team in shambles: they saw a glut of extras, three dropped catches, the worst possible display of end-over bowling, and a batting implosion from a shell-shocked team. They also saw a struggling New Zealand side take advantage of their opponent’s extraordinary failings, slowly at first, before Ross Taylor launched an assault so brutal that Pakistan were gutted and rendered defenseless by the end of the innings.
A stronger opponent would have made Pakistan regret their shoddy performance -Kamran Akmal played the lead and Shoaib Akhtar a supporting role – sooner in the piece, but New Zealand’s batsmen did not until the end. And then they did so without mercy. Martin Guptill was their solitary performer in the first half of the innings, and Taylor needed massive slices luck to get going. But in the last six overs Taylor broke free with unprecedented violence, taking 28 off a Shoaib over – the tournament’s most expensive – before plundering 30 off one from Abdul Razzaq. It began to rain sixes and fours and Pakistan’s helplessness was startling as New Zealand plundered 114 off the last six overs to reach 302.
Pakistan’s batsmen were still swooning from Taylor’s rope-a-dope when they began their chase and the inevitable collapse came to pass. Before the mandatory Powerplay was over, the contest had ended, and after the innings had been reduced to 23 for 4 and 66 for 6, Abdul Razzaq merely delayed the inevitable with a half-century. The only worry for New Zealand was the fitness of their captain, for Daniel Vettori hobbled painfully off the field after injuring his knee in the sixth over and did not return. Taylor, who took over the captaincy, however, had ensured that Vettori’s bowling wasn’t needed on the day.
New Zealand’s formidable total didn’t take shape until very late though. When Pakistan’s spinners dismissed Guptill and James Franklin to reduce the innings from 112 for 2 to 113 for 4, New Zealand were slipping. When Scott Styris, who was dropped by Kamran Akmal, was trapped by an Umar Gul yorker in the first batting-Powerplay over they were only 175 for 5, in sight of a middling total. That changed in a blink.
In the 47th over, Shoaib bowled wide deliveries, length deliveries and full tosses that Taylor savaged through cover point and over the deep-midwicket boundary. That exhibition of how not to bowl at the death was outdone by Razzaq, whose medium-pace at poor length was meat and drink to a marauding Taylor. Fielders looked on helplessly, Shahid Afridi tore his hair out metaphorically and Taylor continued to batter a ragged Pakistan. He had added 35 in 3.5 overs with Nathan McCullum, who initiated the acceleration, and then 85 in 3.4 overs with Jacob Oram, who muscled 25 off 9 balls.
Before the massacre was The Comedy of Errors. The litany began off the first ball of the innings, when Shoaib overstepped and umpire Nigel Llong didn’t spot it. Llong called Shoaib’s next three foot-faults, though, and the New Zealand batsmen sent all those free-hits to the boundary. Brendon McCullum, however, missed an incutter soon after pulling the first free-hit for six and his dismissal brought in How, playing for the unwell Jesse Ryder.
How couldn’t get the ball off the square. Pakistan gave the new ball to a spinner for the first time in 13 years and Abdur Rehman’s left-arm darts were hard to score off. Shoaib, at the other end, was in a generous mood, throwing a ball he fielded on his follow through wide of Kamran Akmal to concede four overthrows. That Pakistan allowed 45 during the mandatory Powerplay was largely due to Shoaib’s largesse. It was also due to Guptill’s ability to focus despite the drama around him. He dragged New Zealand forward with no help from his partner.
How’s misery mercifully ended in the 13th over, when Gul’s incutter struck him so plumb that the ball would have hit the middle of middle stump. How had made 4 off 29 balls.
In walked Taylor, on his 27th birthday, and he received two enormous gifts. Before he had scored, Taylor edged the second ball of Shoaib’s second spell. Akmal moved to towards his right, then stopped and looked expectantly at first slip, where Younis Khan was in shock as the ball sped between them to the boundary. A ball later Taylor edged again, this time the simplest of chances straight to Akmal, and survived. In between those deliveries, Taylor had slashed to the point boundary.
Taylor, whose early struggle was substantial by normal standards but incomparable to How’s, slowly grew in confidence. Then Pakistan went to pieces and, though he shoudn’t have been, Taylor was there to hurt them. He finished unbeaten on 131 off 124 balls.
The day’s ironic moment came when Kamran Akmal edged to slip and watched Taylor, whom he had dropped twice in single digits, take a low catch without even the faintest fumble.